Spy-watchers neglect their duties

Green MP Keith Locke has revealed that the high-powered Parliamentary committee charged with monitoring the country’s intelligence services has met for a total of just three and a half hours over the past two years.

In response to a written parliamentary question, the Prime Minister admitted that the Intelligence and Security Committee had only met five times since the July 27, 2002 election. The meetings lasted a total of 211 minutes, with the longest being for 49 minutes.

“A parliamentary select committee meets together for longer each week than this committee has in two years,” said Mr Locke, Green spokesperson on Security and Intelligence. “The very people who are entrusted with ‘watching the watchers’ actually spend less than two minutes a week, on average, doing their job.

“How can committee members keep a proper oversight on the activities of our spies and ‘analysts’ when meetings aren’t long enough to receive a proper briefing from security chiefs?

“At a time when many western countries are questioning the operation and effectiveness of their intelligence services New Zealand’s spy-watchers can’t even spare the time to ask hard questions.

“The New Zealand intelligence communities naïve trust in US security assessments could easily have led us into the war against Iraq.

“On December 4, 2002 our Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade issued a paper saying ‘It is a fair assumption from the evidence that Iraq has a chemical and biological weapons capacity today’ and that ‘Iraq does represent a growing threat to international peace and security’.

“Only the mass opposition of the New Zealand people kept us out of America’s illegal and immoral invasion of Iraq. It certainly wasn’t because the Intelligence and Security Committee analysed the ‘evidence’ and asked the hard questions.

“The time has come to review the committee’s composition, powers and role,” said Mr Locke. “Its make-up isn’t representative of parliament, it clearly does not meet often enough and it doesn’t have access to operational material.

“In lieu of any meaningful parliamentary scrutiny, New Zealanders are forced to rely on the part-time Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security to keep tabs on what our spooks are up to. And anyone who has spent the five minutes necessary to read one of his wafer-thin annual reports will know that he isn’t privy to too many secrets.”